by Michael Butler
Named after famed racing driver Ayrton Senna who ruled the racetracks during the mid-eighties to early nineties, the McLaren Senna aims to rewrite the history books with sheer levels of performance and capability, and is one of the purest driving cars the English manufacturer has ever put into production. McLaren claims that the Senna is the most track-focused road cars you can buy. What this means is a ton of race-inspired engineering has gone into this car, and the numbers do most of the talking: with a curb weight of only 2,897 pounds, the Senna is the lightest vehicle McLaren has built since the legendary F1. At speed, the Senna creates close to a ton of downforce and will reach a top speed of 208 mph. This then is no speed-chasing hypercar, but a true track weapon with the go to match, and rivals the likes of the Ford GT.
McLaren's all-new track-oriented Ultimate Series model is based around the second-generation carbon monocoque chassis and is powered by the latest generation 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8. The Senna has been joined by the Senna GTR at the turn of the decade, a dedicated track car that won't see public roads. The Senna eschews a sense of style for a focus on downforce, and while street legal, it's been designed and engineered to live on the track.
4.0-liter Twin-Turbo V8 Gas
7 Speed + Reverse Seamless Shift Gearbox (SSG)
The McLaren Senna looks as gorgeous as the rest of the McLaren lineup but is visually more aggressive than any of its lower ranking constituents. It is clear that McLaren follows a function over form design style here: the aerodynamic features are insane, with every corner of this car featuring a scoop or wing. The Senna rolls on a set of Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tires, which are barely legal for road use.
The dimensions of the McLaren Senna have been calculated for maximum performance instead of looks, but McLaren still manages to blend the two for a finished product that looks as good as it goes. When it comes to the dimensions of the Senna, the two keywords here are low and broad. The Senna measures 186.8 inches in length, is 47 inches tall, and 84.8 inches wide, weighing in at 2,897 lbs.
At the heart of the McLaren Senna lies an updated 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine, which is the most powerful road car engine ever produced by the British manufacturer. The Senna makes use of a dry-sump oil pan and a flat-plane crankshaft, as well as lightweight connecting rods and pistons, to help keep weight down and improve engine efficiency. The end result is a car that produces 789 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. Low inertia twin-scroll turbos almost eliminate turbo lag, and performance is astounding from launch all the way to the top end, with torque coming in wave after wave with every flick of the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The zero to sixty sprint is completed in under three seconds, and the Senna tops out at 208 mph.
Being a race car for the road means that there is little importance placed on passenger comfort: the Senna makes you feel every bump and ridge in the road, which is great for dynamic driving, but not so much for a quick Sunday stroll. The Senna's race mode drops the ride height by 1.5 inches in the front, and 1.2 inches in the rear, and switches the dampers into hardcore mode. Cornering is monumental, and the Senna offers nothing short of racecar performance, with the only element holding it back being the tires. Bringing everything to a halt is a set of high-performance brakes that will stop the Senna from 124 mph in only 328 feet.
At this level, gas mileage figures fade into the background, and unless you're planning how many laps you can get on a certain amount of fuel, the Senna's thirsty drinking habit shouldn't matter much to those lucky enough to own one. Estimated fuel consumption is said to be somewhere between 16 and 18 mpg combined, with the Ford GT managing only 14 mpg on the same cycle.
Getting in and out of the McLaren Senna means flipping up a set of dihedral doors that look really cool, but can be tricky to close for the uninformed. Once inside the Senna, two very lucky occupants will find that there's enough space to accommodate two average-sized adults with ease, but larger passengers will feel cramped. The seats offer race-car levels of support.
There is no trunk space to speak of in the McLaren Senna. What you do get is a small storage shelf behind the seats that is large enough to store a set of racing helmets or enough Burger King for a pit crew of four. If you really need to cart around stuff, then your best bet will be the passenger seat.
When it comes to features, the Senna forgoes the traditional in favor of track-derived equipment. The exterior features a lightweight Inconel and titanium exhaust system, as well as LED headlights and lightweight alloy wheels. The interior features electronic door releases, keyless ignition, as well as storage space for two racing helmets. Optional features include six-point racing harnesses, and an MSO powered drink system that reminds the driver to top up on personal fluids while on track.
One of the main interior attractions is the floating infotainment display that brings a touch of civility to an otherwise stripped interior. The screen offers crisp images and features three control knobs at the bottom of the screen. For those more interested in the sounds of
ABBA than that V8 engine in the back, McLaren offers a seven-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system, and for the hardcore racers, a McLaren Track Telemetry system.
The Senna, along with a number of other McLaren supercars, has been recalled due to a faulty gas tank; a foam pad placed beneath the tank can absorb water and other debris, which can lead to the deterioration of the tank, and possible fuel leaks. McLaren does not offer complimentary maintenance visits, and owners get a limited powertrain warranty.
The ultra-exotic McLaren Senna never has, and likely never will be tested by either the NHTSA or IIHS, so official crash test results are not available. Anywhere. What we can tell you is that the Senna has been constructed with racing in mind, so you get all the safety elements of a race car beside a full roll cage. The Senna gets a standard backup camera with front and rear parking sensors, airbags, as well as an advanced traction, stability program, LED headlights, and high-performance brakes.
The Senna is the perfect example of a brand pushing its cars as close to the racetrack as possible without slapping a number to the door and bedazzling it with sponsor stickers. Yes, the Senna is able to drive on the road, but its suspension setup and defining road and tire noise makes it impractical for everyday use, and the fact that it doesn't have any storage space makes things even worse. It is on the track that things start to make sense. With mountains of power on tap, and a body designed to create nearly a ton of downforce at speed, the Senna is an absolute animal on track and is much more dynamically pleasing to drive than its comparatively cumbersome rival, the Bugatti Chiron.
When compared to the insanely fast Bugatti Chiron, the McLaren Senna looks like the bargain of the year. McLaren will ask $1,050,000 for the right to get behind the wheel of a Senna, which is about a third of the price of a Bugatti Chiron. The US Ford GT Coupe costs half as much as the McLaren at $500,000.
You'll have to decide what you want out of your Senna experience: if you want to throw it around the track, but also be able to drive it home, then the standard Senna should do just fine. If you're going to be driving this thing more than once a month, we'd recommend getting the optional sound system. For those who are in it purely for the performance, why not get a 570S for the road, and get the Senna GTR for dedicated track days.
The Ford GT might not be in the same league in terms of power outputs, handling, or engineering technology, but it does like being compared to the Senna on the internet. The Ford GT is powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 that produces 660 hp and 550 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the rear via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The GT is by far the more comfortable and practical car and looks pretty good too, but on the track, it will only see the back-end of the Senna.
The Bugatti Chiron range of cars is the pinnacle in Bugatti design and engineering and places a major focus on top speed, instead of on track ability. Powered by a massive 8.0-liter quad-turbocharged W16 engine, the Chiron produces a serious 1,479 hp, which it sends to all four wheels via a seven-speed DSG transmission. On the road, the Chiron is much more comfortable and has a more luxury-orientated interior. Around the corners, the Chiron will be left in the dust but put it up against the Senna on a long stretch of open road, and the Chiron's party trick becomes very obvious. Pick your poison.
Check out some informative McLaren Senna video reviews below.